SIKESTON -- A recent surge in soybean prices has farmers in the area and across the nation feeling good about planting their crops this spring.
"Farmers are really excited because soybeans are twice the price now than they were a year ago," said Grover Shannon, soybean breeder for Missouri Delta Center in Portageville. "It's a joy to see farmers that have worked so hard to realize a profit for once."
With prices at a 15-year high, the bottom lines for many U.S. soybean farmers have enjoyed a much needed boost.
"What's unique about the prices now is that they've stayed up as long as they have," Shannon noted. "Before they would be $7, $8, $9, $10 and then fall. These are holding and they're staying there."
Ed Case, farm marketing consultant with Hurley and Associates in Charleston, said he thinks the term to describe farmers' attitudes right now is "bulled up."
"Most farmers will tell you they're pretty optimistic about prices for the immediate future," Case said. "Producers are willing to wait for higher prices than what we have right now because we still have all of the growing season in front of us."
New soybean crop prices are $7.69, and old soybean crop prices are $10.24. According to Dwain Ford, chairman of the American Soybean Association, about 70 percent of soybeans were sold during last fall's harvest for about $6 per bushel.
Both Case and Shannon agreed a majority of area farmers probably moved their soybeans in the fall, but Shannon said, "some of them are really smiling right now because they held off selling their soybeans.
"Farmers have had the opportunity to book a good price for next fall," Shannon said. "And it's nice to look at a good price and be assured of a good profit."
Along with the optimism, Shannon noted farmers are taking risks. "They're willing to try new things and new varieties. They kind of get down when don't get a profit," he said.
A lot of farmers also have a big decision to make because prices for about every crop are good, Shannon pointed out. Soybean acreage might be up a little bit in the Bootheel, but the prices of corn and cotton are also up, he added.
Some farmers are even talking about planting early soybean varieties in April so they can harvest in August, Shannon said. "They want to get to a port in August and get an even higher price because there's a demand to get over to the river."
Experts attribute the soaring price of soybeans to three main factors:
-- Last year's U.S. soybean crop was severely reduced by drought and aphid infestations. In all, the United States produced 331 million less bushels in 2003 compared to the year before.
-- Strong demand from China.
-- Growing concern about drought, excessive rain and rust damage to the soybean crop in South America, the world's largest producer. Forecasts suggest that Brazil will produce 150 million to 180 million fewer bushels than expected.
Shannon said he visited Brazil a couple weeks ago, and witnessed farmers experiencing problems with soybean rust -- a problem American farmers fear for the future.
"A lot of American farmers are afraid because the rust kind of migrated from Africa to South America," Shannon explained. "The word is it will spread to the north and probably where it would come in at Louisiana."
However, farmers shouldn't be worried, Shannon assured. "If we know we have it, we know we can control it," Shannon said. "There are some chemicals and we'd be able to plant the variety that has a resistance to the breed."
Meanwhile, local farmers are busy working their grounds for planting, and for many of them, the high prices are just going to make their lives a lot more pleasant, Shannon said. He added that they don't have to have the worries like they had before.
"It's just really fun," Shannon said. "These are exciting times for farmers. They're my friends, and I'm very happy for them. These guys are good people, and they work so hard."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.